Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category


For the past few months–it seemed to us to date roughly from the unexpected arrival of the youngster Midnight–we’ve been concerned about Ben, our mercurial black cat.

He licks and cleans himself obsessively and has rendered the back of his long wonderful legs almost furless.


Ben is a busy boy–


–on mole patrol this morning…

and when he’s not busy he can be perfectly still and seem to be meditating.


He can also be loving


appearing out of nowhere to curl himself round your neck as you lie in bed.


He comes into the kitchen at his customary fast trot–pit stop for fuel– looking shiny sleek from the front.

A black thoroughbred:

 “…always on the move that man–never without ‘is passport.” *


Always in the moment.

He never demands food; he clocks what’s on offer and circles, letting his nose make the choice and when he likes the message it’s sending he settles back on his haunches, leans forward, head close to the bowl and starts to eat.

He has a penchant for sleeping black on black–disappearing into the material; you can walk past him and not notice he’s there.

But after the fluffy bundle arrived around midnight one night…

midnight with a touch of entitlementIMG_7572

Midnight exhibiting a certain entitlement.

…Ben took umbrage and started to sleep in the garage. It seemed he couldn’t deal with the playfulness of the newcomer who just wanted to rumble.

I worried that he might be depressed. The traveling vet, who comes to the house, thought it might be anxiety and prescribed pills.

Big Beau just stood his ground and let the youngster bounce off him.


Beau “sitting his ground”!

Beau and Ben had bonded and I missed their wild chases over and under the furniture.

The mad leaps, the somersaults and the arched backed stand-offs.

By retreating, Ben had lost his playmate. His thunder had been stolen.

He protested all the way to the new vet–but now we know what the problem is.

It’s a wretched little mite called michrosporum canis (round worm).

I’m relieved to learn it’s not the wretched little fluffy mite I suspected.

We now wrap Ben in a towel, then TRY to syringe a tasteless liquid between his gritted teeth– which can cause a smidgen of spousal tension–of minor importance when the goal is to get the magical Ben back on top form…


ps; Things have calmed down down between Mr Midnight and our Ben…


*Mick’s speech from a favorite play: Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

“You remind me of my uncle’s brother. He was always on the move, that man. Never without his passport. Has an eye for the girls. Very much your build. Bit of an athlete. Long-jump specialist. He had a habit of demonstrating different run-ups in the drawing-room round about Christmas time…”






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The name alone makes this sauce from Argentina worth a try.

The taste is fresh and piquant.


According to Wikipedia, the origin of the name dates from the arrival of Basque immigrants to Argentina in the 19th century–at least that’s one theory!

Tximitxurri was a Basque sauce loosely translated as “a mixture of several things–in no particular order!”.

It’s appealingly vague–and has the ring of truth.

I had some parsley to spare and a good supply of capers in the fridge–add red or white wine vinegar, olive oil, red onion or shallots and garlic–in no particular order and…

I tried it with the mackerel at lunch.

Meredith thought it overpowered the fish but I enjoyed it–made up a bit for the disappointing mackerel.



1 tbsp capers

2 tbsp red onion or shallots–chopped

1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic–chopped

4 good handfuls of parsley–chopped a couple of times by hand;

3 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Put first four ingredients in a food mixer and add the olive oil, spoon by spoonful, after each pulse.

The parsley retains its brilliant green better if the leaves aren’t too bashed about.

Season and pulse once more before decanting the sauce into a favorite serving bowl.

Lamb chops with chimichuri or indeed chimichuri with lamb chops next time!








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This lunch seemed to invent itself over the course of an hour.

I was looking for something new to do with eggs.

I wasn’t having much luck–just the usual suspects–but then remembered the cauliflower and broccoli florets–not many–in the fridge.

Steam and serve with poached eggs over them, I thought…. Delicious.

But why not sear them on the griddle after a brief blanching (5 mins)? Even better.


Then I remembered the little individual gratin dishes I’d bought recently.

One each–I love that!

Blanch, sear, remove them to a bowl, season well and sprinkle with olive oil (2 tbs) to coat them, while they are still warm.


Distribute them in two of the dishes with sprinklings of parmesan and left-over breadcrumbs.


I was beginning to feel hungry.

I set the oven to 200C/400F.

I had just enough vegetables for two layers so a sprinkling of the parmesan/breadcrumb mix on each and a drizzle of oil to finish.

Twenty minutes in the top of the oven and the little dishes came out sizzling.


I poached two eggs each.

Thumbs up from Meredith until she started the clear-up.

I am writing this from the dog-house…

[MW writing here: Spilled egg whites all over the counter top and not cleaned up!]







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Sucrine they are called here in France, I guess because they have a sweetness to them.

These tightly packed little tornadoes are known as baby gem lettuce in the UK.

They have an agreeable crunchiness that lends itself to strong contrasts–hence the addition of anchovy.

Anchovies are usually a background sound in cooking but here they solo occasionally. I love ‘em–but they are not to everyone’s taste.

I ordered this a couple of days ago in our new favorite restaurant–Chez Germaine in Gaillac.

A pre-movie (Whiplash) lunch with Donald Douglas (aka Cap’n McNeil in Poldark!) and Emma Temple, his partner.

This place is the French version of a tapas bar–warm and convivial–and the food comes in small quantities on individual plates. I ordered a plate of baby squid persillade (in parsley and garlic oil) and this salad. Perfect with a glass of the local red wine (Gaillac).

The combination of the crispness of the lettuce and creaminess of the goat’s cheese with the occasional bite of anchovy had everyone dipping in!

Meredith–not too sure about anchovies showing up so brazenly–suggested substituting roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds–good idea.

You could add them anyway–but I like the salad’s simplicity.

for two



2 sucrine (baby gem) lettuces–deconstructed and sliced up

half a goat’s cheese “log”–or other shapes–pulled apart to spread its creaminess

3 or 4 anchovy fillets–sliced into smaller pieces


1 tbsp red wine vinegar

4 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic–pulped in a mortar with a pinch of salt

salt and pepper


Add the lettuce to a favorite bowl.

Add the cheese and the anchovy pieces.

Make the vinaigrette

Add the wine vinegar to the garlic in the mortar and whisk.

Add the olive oil and whisk it in to make the vinaigrette.

Pour it over the contents of the bowl.

Turn everything over carefully until the little lettuce gleams with pride.






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Every three months I take a trip to see Cyril, my podologue, for a foot service–an essential on a diabetic’s check-up list.

Eyes next month.

It’s a relaxing 45 minutes–he has a naturally calm manner and doesn’t flinch at my halting French.

We chat while he gently works.

He’s signed the French version of our petition au sujet de l’église, he tells me.

Merci beaucoup, Cyril!

He told me he and his wife are expecting their second child–a girl–in three weeks time. They are favoring “Rose” as a name.

I booked another session in the first week of April and, stepping lightly on my “new feet”, headed across the road to the car.

I started pondering dinner–before lunch.

(One can never be too prepared….)

“Ah!” I remembered a friendly family butcher (husband and wife) nearby whom I occasionally frequent–and I recalled a one-pot recipe in Delicious Dishes that calls for spare rib chops, white beans and oranges. See recipe below….

From Delicious Dishes for Diabetics

From Delicious Dishes for Diabetics

Both husband and wife were busy working as I entered.

“Deux bouchers!”

Une bouchère, Monsieur!” [One of us is a woman, Sir!]

“Ah–tout a fait!–excusez moi, Madame! Est-ce que vous avez d’ échine de porc?” 

“Bien sur!”

“Deux, s’il vous plait–assez fines [not too thick].”

Comfort food again.

I picked up some broccoli at the quiet Tuesday open-air market in Castres and headed home.

A couple of nights ago, I’d mis-timed the broccoli; it was ready too soon–so I drizzled it with olive oil, seasoned it and sautéd it a low flame to keep it warm.

When it came time to serve, one side was slightly charred but it tasted GOOD.  I enjoy happenstance in cooking and decided to try it again–deliberately!


It works–and made a nice color contrast to the pork.


Serves 4

This lovely autumn/winter comfort dish is based on one by the talented Frances Bissell.

2 x 400 g/16 oz tins/bottles white beans
4 spare rib chops (echine in France – these are the tastier ones)

1 onion – sliced
1 stick celery – sliced
2 oranges
1 tsp coriander seeds
150 ml/5 fl oz/1⁄2 cup vegetable stock
salt and pepper
chopped fresh coriander or parsley

The timing for cooking depends in part on the thickness of the chops.

Heat the oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Rinse the bean and pour into the oven proof dish you will serve from.
Brown the chops well in a non-stick frying pan. (No oil needed as the chops are a bit fatty.)

Lay them  atop the beans.

Brown the onion and celery in the same frying pan – the fat from the chops will be enough to cook them in.

Lay them on the chops.

Carefully cut some strips of zest from one of the oranges.

Bury these in with the chops and beans.

Squeeze the juice from the two oranges over the chops.

Crush the coriander seeds and sprinkle over. Add the stock.

Cover and cook in the oven for about 2 hours.

Check after an hour to ensure that there is enough liquid–but be careful not to add too much–or the concentrated taste of the sauce will weaken.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Before serving, sprinkle the chopped coriander or parsley over to garnish.






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We first had this dish in an excellent little restaurant in Castres, called L’Envie [fancy] recently.

Apt name–I fancied trying to recreate it at home.

First I had to buy the little serving dishes!  Still haven’t found the ones I’d really like (in terra cotta).

The recipe itself is relatively easy to prepare and quick to cook. It’s both delicious and handy as a simple starter for company, as it can be assembled well ahead of time.

It’s a conversation starter too.

“What are those things at the bottom of the dish?”




For two (but easily scaled up for the number around your table–if you have the little serving dishes!)

Preheat the oven to 220C/430F (i.e. hot oven)


2 shallots–very finely sliced

1 small “log” of goat’s cheese [chevre]

2 thin slices pancetta–(I started by using parma ham but Meredith suggested pancetta might be better and she was right! bacon would work too.)

4 small sage leaves–optional

olive oil for drizzling


Spread the shallot slices over the bottom of two small oven proof dishes–roughly a shallot for each dish.

Slice the goat’s cheese log into four pieces about and inch or so long

Place two pieces in each dish.

Half the pancetta “rounds” and place one half slice in each side of each dish.

Place two small sage leaves in each dish.

Sprinkle about a tablespoon of olive oil round and over the contents of each dish making sure the shallots get their fair share.


Roast in the top shelf of the oven for about ten minutes or so.

Meredith said I was stingy with the pancetta!

If you spot those little terra cotta serving dishes, let me know!

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Hiver est arrivé!


Crisp and even!

Just as it should be but isn’t always these days as the seasons come unstuck.
They are planting the garlic and our birds are back on the bird table–tits, nuthatches and a robin.
Surprising how good it makes one feel–seasonal balance.

It helps this morning as we wait with our builders for someone from the La Mairie of Lautrec to arrive with the key to the church–the future of which has been an on-going concern, or to put it more crudely–has been bugging us for the past three months.

An unwelcome distraction from the food and everyday life blog.

The mayor (maire) announced at a meeting of the parishioners at the beginning of October (the first night of my cooking workshop, so Meredith had to go alone) that he is wants to sell the church.

He claimed that it is in a dangerous state and about to fall down.

Lautrec is in debt he said and short of money.

He claimed there was someone interested in buying the church and converting it into a living space.

Oh my goodness!

It’s no more than ten yards from the présbytere-the priest’s residence–our residence now.


So IOBY (in our back yard)–literally.


Ben on the lookout!


Meredith suggested there were other solutions.

OK says the Mayor, you have three months.


The church is no oil painting but we have grown to love it and its reassuring presence.


It was built about 1870–a hundred and fifty years after the presbytere (priest’s house) to replace the original chapel that was destroyed at the time of the French Revolution (1789-1794…).

In 1905 Church and State were separated by law in France and the churches became the property of local government.

SO–the church belongs to the commune.

In March at the local elections the Mairie changed hands and the new Maire decided that the church had to be sold.

(It was deconsecrated as a church sometime ago.)

A local woman had shown interest a couple of years ago but the then mayor assured us it was not for sale.


After the election, however, the same woman approached the new mayor….

We have been busy these three months.

We’ve consulted notaries, lawyers, the citizens advice bureau in our local town and all agree, after studying the documents that there is NO ACCESS to the church from our side and our neighbors, the farmers who own the land surrounding the church say they will not grant access from their side.


There is also NO WATER on the site and NO SANITATION--ie septic tank.

The only land is the narrow path that circles the building–NO TERRAIN.

As to the state of the building today two builders examined it inside and out and their shared opinion is that it is NOT ABOUT TO FALL DOWN.

There is structural work to be done to secure the chapel on the north side–but tis would not be “grande choses”.

One of them suggested that two exterior buttresses would render that chapel safe.

At the meeting in October the mayor assured the parishioners of St Martin, many of whom have family tombs in the adjacent cemetery and for whom the ongoing presence of the church building is significant, that it would retain it’s outward footprint—ie look the same.

The lawyers in Albi and Castres told us this assurance does not conform to French law in the case of rural churches.

Indeed the prospective buyer has told us that, if successful in her bid, she intends to knock down the two side chapels to provide window views on the north and south sides of the building.


We heard last week that the town council has voted to sell the church.

Though many people we have talked to say “BE PATIENT!” this is MAD and will not happen, it is a distraction.

We have set up a worldwide petition in favor of preserving the church as a significant presence and with the possibility of using it as a cultural centre and exhibition space. Please sign it:



The interior of St Martin showing some of the murals depicting the life of St Martin.




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